By Jonathan S. Stewart
In everyday experience, our little kids will tell us, “Mommy or Daddy please buy me chocolate.” The name chocolate is sweet and lovely, though. The taste and appearance seem the best for the eyes and the stomach. Unfortunately, the kids do not normally know where this comes from; what are the original materials that were transformed to be made into these nice chocolates that have such exciting and appetizing quality. They do not know that chocolates are made from the cocoa bean, which does not seem edible to many people in its original form and state. When a value is added to agriculture produce, it pleases the eyes and attracts more currency than when it is sold in its original form or appearance. That is why agriculture systems are encouraged to promote value addition as it diversifies national economies. Value addition in agriculture context has to do with the process of adding economic value to agriculture produce by processing, packaging, branding or generally transforming to a suitable and acceptable food/goods for a certain society of people.
The worth of a national agriculture production does not purely lie on the quantity of raw produce but the economic benefits accrued in terms of adding value to produce coming from the farms. For example, Liberia is one of the largest producers of unprocessed rubber/latex. But interestingly, we are not among the highest producers of rubber products in Africa not to say the world. If we had concentrated on value addition of rubber, we would have created more jobs and expand our economy. Agriculture produce is valued generally when it is processed to the last stage for consumption at the comfort of the consumers. Shoppers psychologically and emotionally feel attracted and value farm produce when it is processed, packaged, branded and placed on a supermarket shelf. At this point in the value chain, the produce is not mere farm produce but a food item in the supermarket with a dollar value on it. The buyer is prepared to pay the astronomical cost because now it looks pleasant, palatable and found in a highly rated market structure. This is the power of value addition and many economies survive on this.
The full potential of agriculture in terms of economic benefits is mainly hidden in the value addition component of the production process. It is in this segment of the production chain that more jobs can be created; foreign exchange can be expanded as a result of export of finished products and the national output of the economy can be enhanced. In as much as a nation must focus on the production of raw produce as a way to stabilize the national food security, a major component to place emphasis on is the value addition segment that requires a favorable business climate that inspires government policies and programs. When farmers grow their crops and the produce can be fully utilized at an economic advantage to them, they can have the moral and economic motivation to till the soil more and labor for surplus harvest knowing that it won’t be a waste.
The World Bank (WB) has projected that by 2030, the size of the food and agribusiness industry in Africa will reach a 1 trillion United States dollars’ worth. It seems to be an opportunity for Africa to have its size of economic continuum. But interestingly, this will mainly have to do with value addition to the food-related produce coming from the farms. This is achievable depending on the level of investment that will be tailored to the value addition segment of Africa’s agriculture production chain. On the other hand, this mean as we push for a climate-smart approach to agriculture production, we should not lose sight of an investment agenda in the food and agribusiness sector. This means African countries such as Liberia should intentionally and holistically lay out an agriculture development plan that promotes agriculture as a business concept and enhances local production.
Value addition with respect to agriculture produce in Liberia is being introduced by a few business establishments and individuals but at a slow pace due to some outstanding economic and infrastructure factors. Factors such as lack of suitable storage facilities, farm to market roads, stable electricity, access to finance, limited supply of produce and poor post-harvest technology/handling are the challenging reality present in the sector. These are factors that have obstinately influenced value addition efforts over the years in Liberia. As individuals and business institutions try to leverage the potential of value addition in the agriculture space, they are confronted with the issues mentioned above which, in most instances, strangulate their initiatives or discourage them from continuing such effort. If we must increase value addition activities in our agriculture production system for sustained economic growth, these key issues must be addressed from the policy standpoint and national agriculture program perspective.
A few years ago, Sam’s Barbecue introduced the Samba Juice on the Liberian market, which is made of local vegetable produce such as ginger, oranges and other fruit and vegetables. At an entrepreneurship forum held in Monrovia, Mr. Sam Mitchel, CEO of the enterprise, disclosed that one of the major challenges to his juice production initiative is a limited supply of needed raw materials (quality vegetables). He revealed that most times, his production team has to go across the border to neighboring countries to get supply of quality vegetable products in order to carry on production. The situation of such increases the cost of production which directly affects the pricing issue of these value addition produce/products. Currently, the Samba Juice product is not widely seen on the market probably for some reasons.
However, there is a need to continue providing this product on the market or expand the production as it has the potential to create jobs and grow the national economy. Other enterprises such as Falama Liberia are involved with value addition of cassava product. Falama has been adding value to cassava by producing gari/farina, Acheke, Fufu, cereal /porridge, cassava flour and other products. The National Cassava Producers Union of Liberia is also involved with producing cassava chips for export to Asia, an initiative that is expanding the cassava sector of Liberia. It is also empowering smallholder cassava farmers in central Liberia. It is an effort worth acknowledgement and supports nationally. There is a newly established enterprise called Wungko’s Farm, which is involved with plantain value addition by producing plantain chips, a processed, packaged and branded product being promoted by many agriculture enthusiasts in Liberia. Montserrado Meat, an enterprise that is striving to prove that Liberia can minimize the importation of meat products by rearing, processing and packaging meat products locally.
These and many more local enterprises are playing some major roles in our local value addition effort. But the fact is more needs to be done. Investment needs to be expanded in value addition. Imagine, combined meat consumption annually for Liberia is 133,000 tons and only 15 percent of this quantity is produced in the country. FABRAR and other local enterprises are making some strides in the rice sector. But more needs to be done. Liberia consumes 570,000 tons of rice per annum and imports 80 percent of this quantity with a 20 percent domestic production. There is a huge import gap here, which must be approached with a robust production effort. There is no sustainable food system if you cannot increase investment in value addition.
Value addition in agriculture comes with so many socio-economic benefits for a nation. Agriculture, being a bedrock of social-economic development, is a source of employment, national income and foundation for national stability. When the potential of agriculture is tapped fully, a nation can experience sustained economic growth and improvement in the poverty cleft, especially for the rural population. Currently, Liberian youth unemployment stands at an alarming rate. The need to create jobs for the youth in Liberia has been a long-standing task and still remains a major national priority. As the nation strategizes on ways to get the youth to jobs where they will contribute to national development and improve their welfares, agriculture value addition can lead the way and absorb a greater portion of the youth labor force.
For example, if we push for value addition for produce like corn/maize. So many things will happen along the value chain of this crop. More jobs and business opportunities can be created. Products such as corn oil, animal feed, popcorn, cornflower and other products can be derived and in the process of producing these products, many jobs can be created, national income in the form of taxes will be collected and other social impacts can be made as relates to poverty reduction and economic growth. However, in order to realize the full potential of the value chain of corn, farmers must have the capacity to supply processors and value addition enterprises. Farmers must have access to climate-smart production skills (effective extension service), access to finance and market linkages. In this way, there will be uninterrupted production of value-added corn products.
Adding value to corn produce will indirectly impart the animal production sector as nutritious feed can be produce from corn. Individuals and enterprises involved in animal or poultry production will have access to adequate feed which will make them expand their production. This will impact the meat market as there will be more locally-produced quality meat available on the market. The economic impact of this chain is much needed, especially during the post-COVID-19 era. Adding value to our common crops will reduce lots of issues like post-harvest losses and market uncertainty. If bulk demand for farm produce increases, farmers post-harvest losses will reduce as they will have a direct supply line to many of the processors. In Africa, there is a 20 percent post-harvest loss annually. This is alarming and one of the better ways to address this is to promote value addition locally. It will reduce the stress farmers go through in providing temporary storage, transportation and traditional marketing, especially with perishable produce. Value addition increases the demand for farm produce which directly increases farmer’s income.
Value addition of farm produce requires the development of an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to thrive. Having an attractive investment climate gives way to massive investment interest and efforts. That is why national leadership and agriculture policy drivers must put in place policies and programs that inspire investment in value addition of farm produce so as to stimulate economic growth. Agribusiness development scheme must be developed to make available access to finance/capital, electricity, technology infrastructure, standardization and certification. When these issues and others are worked on, business initiatives that seek to promote value addition will thrive and make needed economic and social impacts. The potential of agriculture to create economic stability and reduce rural poverty is still unexploited. All it needs is pragmatic leadership and national consciousness to do agriculture instead of speaking agriculture. As a nation that is faced with many social challenges and striving to build back better on the economy and empower youth, Liberia needs to strategically place youth interest at the center of its agriculture development program as the youth account for more than 60 percent of the population.
According to UNFAO and WFP, Liberia is among 27 countries that are on the frontline of the impending COVID-19 –driven food crises in Asia, Middle East, Central America and Africa. These countries are identified as hotspot and high-risk nations that are experiencing or expect to experience significant food security deterioration in the coming months, including a rising number of people that will fall under the acute hunger category. In this light, food security programs and plan intended to push back acute hunger post-COVID-19 should clearly consider value addition as a major pillar. Enterprises and individuals involve with value addition of local agriculture produce should be identified, assessed and capacitated with needed resources and technical supports to expand and diversified as we will need more food available during and post COVID-19.
In order to resuscitate the Liberian economy and improve the economic growth indicators, agriculture must be seen as a sustainable vehicle that can absorb more of the nation’s unemployed population and a primary revenue generation sector. A major initiative that the Ministry of Agriculture must consider cardinal to agriculture investment is data. As at current, there is no analyzed data on many crops that are produce or consume in Liberia. Data availability aid in agriculture investment; as such it must be treated as an essential tool that can influence national food security. The ministry must also focus on data management of framers and farm produce, knowing what is produced and where it is produced and by whom is the first step in creating the platform for value addition in agriculture.
Nations with agriculture driven economies heavily depend on value addition to utilize the full potential of agriculture to their GDP. In Cote d’ Ivoire, Cocoa is a major and widely grown crop. As a result, it undergoes value addition that see the nation to be a major exporter of cocoa related products such as body creams, tea, chocolate, biscuits and other products. According to the World Bank, Cocoa related production contributes 15 percent to the nation’s GDP and two-thirds of jobs. This is admirable and deserves replication in the African countries including Liberia. Liberia needs to divert from the traditional ways of undertaking agriculture programs by developing impact-based programs that seek for productivity and increased produce/products. Through this many people will be lifted from poverty and the nation will mobilize domestic resources through the sector for national development. It is time to look in the direction of value addition for Liberia’s farms produce. Value addition is a way to go!
About the author:
Jonathan S. Stewart – is a Food Security Advocate and Green Ambassador. He is an agriculture development professional with focus on climate smart or sustainable agriculture. He leads a national and global youth effort in promoting Zero Hunger of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He is Agriculture Ambassador for Access Agriculture and the Lead Campaigner for Agro Tech Liberia. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: stewajo09